Sultan M Hali
FIVE years after the elimination of Osama bin Laden, US spin doctors are raking up the ghost of his successor Ayman Al-Zawahiri and presenting him as being present in Karachi. One would have thought that with the west’s desperate attempts to vanquish the new Frankenstein, The so-called Islamic State (IS), al-Zawahiri would have been long forgotten. With the campaign against the IS going awry, there is a dire need by the Occident to rekindle interest in the Al-Qaeda. Little wonder then that Newsweek of April 21, 2017 published Jeff Stein’s opinion piece titled ‘Ayman Al-Zawahiri: How a CIA drone strike nearly killed the head of Al-Qaeda’.
Lisa Curtis, who is obsessed with Pakistan and has recently been appointed the head of the South Asia desk for the US National Security Council, co-authored a sensational piece arguing that the U.S. “should…hold Pakistan accountable for the activities of all terrorist groups on its soil.” As if to prove her point, Lisa insists that al-Zawahiri is hiding in Karachi. Bruce Riedel, another Pakistan baiter and 30-year CIA veteran who was the top adviser on South Asia and the Middle East for the past four U.S. presidents, concedes about al-Zawahiri’s location that “Like everything about his location, there’s no positive proof.” Yet he insists that: “There are pretty good indications, including some of the material found in Abbottabad,” where bin Laden was slain, “that point in that direction.”
Lisa Curtis and Bruce Riedel both surmise that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) has been protecting the Egyptian-born al-Zawahiri. Riedel says the heavily policed city of Karachi, the site of a major nuclear complex, also hosts Pakistani naval and air bases, where forces could quickly be scrambled to intercept American raiders if they tried to eliminate al-Zawahiri. He then pulls a fast one, insisting that, bin Laden, al-Zawahiri’s late protégé, remains a popular figure among Karachi’s millions of poor, devout Muslims, who could well emerge from their homes and shops to pin down Americans.
According to the Newsweek article, in the first week of January 2016, the Obama administration went after al-Zawahiri with a drone strike in Pakistan’s remote Shawal Valley, which abuts the Afghan border in a Federally Administered Tribal Area. But he survived. The article construes: “The drone hit next to the room where Dr Zawahiri was staying, the shared wall collapsed, and debris from the explosion showered on him and broke his glasses, but luckily he was safe.”
Another detractor, Pakistan’s former Ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani and Lisa Curtis argue in a co-authored article that it was time to “avoid viewing and portraying Pakistan as an ally. The new U.S. administration should recognize that Pakistan is not an American ally. Islamabad can no longer be allowed to play a ‘double game’ with Washington, shielding anti-US terrorists with one hand while accepting billions in aid with the other and enjoying the status of a quasi-official ally, she and Haqqani wrote. “For too long, the US has given Pakistan a pass on its support for some terrorist groups based in Pakistan, including those used against India,” they wrote.
The US is averse to Pakistan, China or Russia playing any role to restore peace in Afghanistan. On the eve of the recent talks in Moscow, US forces dropped its most powerful bomb in Nangarhar district, close to the Pakistani border and blame Pakistan for aiding and abetting the Taliban. Earlier, on January 10, 2017, in a terrible blast, at a guesthouse in Kandahar, Governor Humayun Azizi’s compound, 12 people, including Juma Mohammed Abdullah al-Kaabi, UAE’s Ambassador to Kabul and five Emirati humanitarian workers were killed while 14 others were wounded. Kandahar’s deputy governor, Abdul Ali Shamsi, was also killed in the attack as was diplomat Yama Quraishi, head of Afghanistan’s passport section in Washington and the nephew of former Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s wife. The attack came on a deadly day In Afghanistan in which explosions ripped through Kabul and Helmand province as well. The Taliban took credit for the Kabul attacks. There was no claim of responsibility for the Kandahar bombing.
As if in retaliation, to the US Bomb attack, Taliban conducted a deadly raid Friday on April 21, 2017 at a northern army base that killed or wounded more than 140 people. The assault began as soldiers were observing Friday prayers at Camp Shaheen near Mazar-e-Sharif, one of the nation’s most populated and developed cities, the Afghan military said. The city is in Balkh province and the base is the headquarters of the 209th Shaheen Corps. Taliban fighters dressed in military uniforms raided the army base in northern Afghanistan, raking it with gunfire in an hours-long attack that left more than 100 soldiers dead or wounded, officials said. A video released soon after validates that Afghanistan has facilitators from within rather than having facilitators from Pakistan. US, its allies as well as the Afghan government must realize that from North to South, the Taliban have support base inside the Afghan police and Army. Moreover up in the North the support base could be from other countries also, but the major problem lies within Afghanistan as a society that is not cohesive. Afghans have to change from within or else no amount of aid or outside support will work. Instead of blaming others, US administration needs to take cognizance of the home grown Afghan terror mongers.
Over the last two years, Taliban fighters have gained more territory in the countryside and now threaten several cities. Afghanistan’s forces, suffering enormous casualties and grappling with a leadership marred by indecision and corruption, have struggled to put up a defense. More than 6,700 members of the Afghan security forces lost their lives in 2016, a record high that is nearly three times the total American casualties for the war. Afghan Government needs to focus more on the internal dimensions of the conflict and put its own house in order rather than blaming Pakistan. Reportedly there are at least 30000 ghost soldiers in ANSF and many more aligned to warlords with tribal loyalties. The possibility of involving Pakistan cannot be ruled out because it suits them to divert the attention from own follies.
—The writer is retired PAF Group Captain and a TV talk show host.